Tesla, Elon Musk, autopilot

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When it was widely reported over a week ago that a 2016 Tesla Model X car being driven on autopilot had crashed in Pennsylvania, I barely paid the news much attention.

Tesla, Autonomous cars, Model X
2016 Tesla Model X

I felt the news trended for a while because, the Model X is part of a new group of cars built with the best technology that can be fitted in a car. As a matter of fact, anything Tesla does these days is big news for the simple reason of cars like the Model X.

For those who don’t know, Tesla along with Google, are in the forefront of building autonomous cars. Cars that are so technologically advanced they can navigate the city scape without any driver input. This technology is new. And because it is new, it attracts a lot of attention.

Tesla, Autonomous cars, Model X
Google self-driving car

The sort of attention that followed the first Google driverless car tests in the city of Austin last year. Since then, these cars have logged in hundreds of thousands of miles as Google puts them through their paces before they are finally released to the public.

So this is the sort of car that crashed. The subsequent hysteria over the crash was normal. After all, we are talking a piece of high tech machine Tesla told the world will eliminate road accidents.

It was as if the hacks were just waiting for something like these to happen to descent on Tesla and the whole idea of autonomous cars. The way the opinion pieces appeared even in reputable publications, one would be forgiven to think these articles were already written a long time ago. Just waiting for a crash to happen.

Tesla, Autonomous cars, Model X
Tesla autonomous car

The write-ups were way over the line. What made it seem justifiable for these hacks was that it was the second time it happened in a space of two months. The first happened in West Florida in the first week of May.

It involved a Model S Tesla car with the autopilot apparently turned on. The passenger died. It turned out that the autopilot warned the passenger about the risks he was taking which went unheeded.

So a second crash by the same car in two months meant the cars were not safe right? They should be discontinued right? Every day we live with car crashes. Literally thousands of cars crash every day in any country but nobody is calling for cars to be turned to metal junks because they are unsafe.

But a car crashes twice in two months in two different cities and writers want us to believe our lives are imperiled. The most ridiculous call for the halt of production of Tesla’s autonomous cars came from the respected Consumer Reports. From where I am sitting, Consumer Report lost their well-known objectivity there. They allowed the mass hysteria to bully them into jumping to spurious conclusions.

Here is part of the report from Consumer Reports and their ridiculous demands:

While the exact cause of the fatal accident is not yet known, the incident has caused safety advocates, including Consumer Reports, to question whether the name Autopilot, as well as the marketing hype of its roll-out, promoted a dangerously premature assumption that the Model S was capable of truly driving on its own. Tesla’s own press release for the system announced “Your Autopilot has arrived” and promised to relieve drivers “of the most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel.” But the release also states that the driver “is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car.”

Consumer Reports calls for Tesla to do the following:
  • Disable Autosteer until it can be reprogrammed to require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel
  • Stop referring to the system as “Autopilot” as it is misleading and potentially dangerous
  • Issue clearer guidance to owners on how the system should be used and its limitations
  • Test all safety-critical systems fully before public deployment; no more beta releases
Tesla, Autonomous cars, Model X
Elon Musk, CEO Tesla Motors

I am glad Tesla came out to roundly reject Consumer Reports demands both publicly and in a direct reply to the firm. Here is what Tesla said in reply:

“Tesla is constantly introducing enhancements, proven over millions of miles of internal testing, to ensure that drivers supported by Autopilot remain safer than those operating without assistance. We will continue to develop, validate, and release those enhancements as the technology grows. While we appreciate well-meaning advice from any individual or group, we make our decisions on the basis of real-world data, not speculation by media.”

Well said. Even planes go down from time to time. And for the records planes are more sophisticated than anything autonomous car makers can possibly think of putting in their cars.

I just hope this nonsense noise would not push the government into making decisions that would impact negatively on further developments of the autonomous car.


lmage credit: cnet,com; cbsnews.com; thehoopsnews.com; techcrunch.com